Turks want foreign policy to change

Turks want foreign policy to change

Turkey’s “factory settings” have apparently been restored. What I am talking about are the expectations of the Turkish people from Ankara’s foreign policy.

The “factory settings” of Turkey’s foreign policy since the foundation of the republic are composed of Turkey’s NATO membership, its EU membership perspective, the widespread public opinion that “Turks don’t have friends other than Turks” and the official stance toward Azerbaijan outlined as “one nation with two states.”

The more the internal and external security threats rise, the more Turkish people get afraid and insecure. And under such circumstances, they always start looking for an assurance, ending up taking shelter in the country’s “factory settings.”

This posited this week in an annual survey conducted by Kadir Has University, the results of which were presented by the university’s president, Mustafa Aydın.

The survey reveals clearly that Turkish people consider the alliance with the West as a strong security blanket. There has been a sharp rise lately in the number of people who support Turkey’s European Union membership: a rise from 42 percent last year to 62 percent. 

The same applies to NATO membership. The number of those who say “Turkey’s NATO membership should continue” has risen from 67 to 74 percent. According to the “Transatlantic Trends” survey conducted by the German Marshall Fund in 2010, in other words six years ago, this ratio was just 30 percent.

On the other hand, the expectation about Turkey’s EU membership is quite low. Some 67 percent of the people think “Turkey will never become an EU member.” Moreover, the distrust toward the West has become frighteningly high. Only 15 percent of the country consider the EU as sincere and confidential. 

Furthermore, the perception of the recent deal negotiated between Turkey and the EU regarding the refugee crisis is quite negative. Some 57 percent find the agreement unfavorable while 58 percent are afraid that it might lead to an increase in the number of refugees in Turkey. Moreover, half of the people think that refugees will create economic problems for the country.

The distrust towards the United States, which is used to fluctuate according to the circumstances, has seriously increased. The percentage of the people who find the U.S. “unreliable” is 42 whereas this number was as low as 18 last year. Those who think there is a problem in Turkey-U.S. relations constitute 59 percent of the people. In contrast with today, last year the U.S. was considered to be Turkey’s closest ally. Even more interestingly, cooperation with the U.S. was much more preferred than with Muslim countries. 

The main reason behind the current “disconnect” seems to be the widespread public opinion that the U.S. doesn’t stand by Turkey strongly enough in its fight with terrorism. According to 72 percent of the Turkish people, the biggest problem between the two countries today is the fight against terrorism. Washington’s support for the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria has must played a big role in the emergence of this perception.    

Beyond these, those who believe “Turkey doesn’t have any friends” are 23 percent this year whereas 59 percent consider Azerbaijan as the country’s “closest friend.” This is the most salient change compared to the previous surveys. Obviously the more lonely Turks feel, the firmer they cling to their “sister country.”

Another trend which comes to the fore is the dissatisfaction with Turkey’s foreign policy. 

Those who find Turkey’s Middle East policies unsuccessful are 18 percent, while according to 39 percent, the government’s foreign policy has generally failed. That number is much higher when it comes to Syria. Some 44 percent of people consider the policies on Syria as unsuccessful. Some 43 percent think that “Turkey should stay neutral toward Syria and should not intervene at all.” In addition, the vast majority wants to move only in concert with the international coalition in the war against ISIL.

Turkish people are also reluctant toward Syrian refugees. Some 58 percent are not happy with the refugees and half of the people want the admittance of the refugees to end.

Another significant result is the number of people who want normalization with Israel, which has also risen to 42 percent since last year. On Russia, on the other hand, people seem to have been split in half. Those who support Turkey’s downing of the Russian warplane on Nov. 24, 2015, are 58 percent. Yet almost the same amount of people, that is, 57 percent, think that the reaction was disproportionate.

In short, Turkish people think that they are getting more and more isolated in foreign affairs and are therefore asking for revision.

Developing new policies in the light of the changing dynamics in Syria; forming a “regional Kurdish vision” in view of the new Kurdish reality in northern Iraq and Syria; opening the channels of dialogue with Egypt and Russia just like Ankara did with Israel... These are steps which would only strengthen Turkey’s hand, clear its way for progress and expand its room of maneuver.

Turkish people are asking for this concurrently with the formation of a new government in Ankara. It is certainly about time.